The Droz Report #4
Weasel words, weasel's truth
Harper's self-serving 'apology' exposes the cowardly venality lurking beneath his unbutoned shirt
"... if anybody is kept out of any of our events that's there to hear our message we obviously apologize to them. Our interest is in having as many people out to hear our message as we can. We're having huge meetings, we had another huge one last night and we want people to hear our message." — Stephen Harper 'apologizes' after being asked if he would take responsibility for a teenager's eviction from a rally because her Facebook page included a photo of herself with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
On April 3rd, two young women, students at the University of Western Ontario, attended a Conservative Party rally and were taught a valuable lesson about Conservative values and ethics.
About a half-hour after being admitted, both Awish Aslam and an un-named friend were hustled out of the meeting, publicly berated and had physically stripped of the stickers pinned to their shirts — all because they had both had the naive temerity to post a photo of themselves taken while meeting Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff on their Facebook profiles.
The London Free Press broke the story on April 5th.
"A week ago, Aslam, readying to vote federally for the first time, attended a Liberal rally in London where she and a friend snagged a photo with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Both made it their Facebook profile pictures.
"A few days later, the pair attended Harper’s rally, for which they signed up in advance online.
"But about 30 minutes after arriving, Aslam says, they were ordered out by a man who accused them of having "ties to the Liberal party through Facebook."
"He ripped Conservative stickers off their shirts, tore them up and ordered them out, Aslam says."
Note that no one accused Aslam or her friend of being disruptive in any way. They weren't demonstrating, or passing out leaflets or even asking questions — they were just, y'know, watching.
Further note that the Conservatives consider it an efficient use of their time to stalk the Facebook pages of attendees at their rallies, that they consider public humiliation of teenagers appropriate behaviour (Ms Aslam was reduced to tears) and that, as we'll see, Stephen Harper himself sees nothing wrong with any of this.
The Globe and Mail ran the story and followed up with the Prime Minister Who Would Be President himself.
Harper ducked the issue. "The staff runs our campaigns," he said, "and I can't comment on individual matters like that," typically passing the buck of blame to those below him.
See An apology means never having to say you're sorry for more.
An apology means never having to say you're sorry
advises unidentified child against posting
politically compromising photographs on Facebook.
Slow-forward to April 7, when Harper and his brain-trust finally realized his lumbering dance of deny-and-blame wasn't making the issue go away. In a media scrum on the 7th (you can see a video on the CBC's website), Harper apologized.
Well, sort of. He used the word, "apologize", and the media seem to have taken that to mean he said he was sorry. For example, the CBC's headline reads, "Harper apologizes over rally screening" and the Victoria Times-Colonist reported without apparent irony that "Harper apologizes to anybody kept out of Tory rallies".
I don't know about you, but when I read those words, or listen to them, I'm damned if I hear any contrition whatsoever.
I quoted them at the top of this piece, but they bear repeating.
"... if anybody is kept out of any of our events that's there to hear our message we obviously apologize to them. Our interest is in having as many people out to hear our message as we can. We're having huge meetings, we had another huge one last night and we want people to hear our message."
If anybody was kept out, we "obviously apologize".
Which really begs the question: Since somebody (more than one somebody, actually. See this piece, also from The Globe, for more) was "kept out", why didn't he actually apologize? (I note that Ms Aslam herself has accepted an apology from a Tory staffer, but still wants to know, from the Prime Minister himself, "why we were removed from the rally.")
For one thing, the Prime Minister Who Would Be President doesn't do apologies; he does blame. (As a long list of conscientious civil servants could easily attest.)
For another, there is no reason to believe Harper was sorry, nor any reason to think he will ensure that sort of thing doesn't happen again.
Judging him by his own words, he has no concern with the disrespect his staff (or rather, as it turns out, members of the RCMP acting as staff; but that's another sordid story) showed to two young women, nor with the ugly fact that his Party has a policy of vetting would-be attendees to their meetings for their political leanings. That this is both paranoid and inefficient (as a security measure) speaks volumes.
No, according to Harper's own words, his only real concern was that his message was not getting out to as many people as possible".
That's it, that's all.
Harper offered no real expression of regret because he has none. He promised no change in his staff's behaviour, because he thinks the behaviour is just fine. And he articulated no principle other than vapid self-interest, because any principles Harper might actually hold run so contrary to those held by the vast majority of the Canadian people that he dare not speak them aloud.
You might argue that these are private rallies, that the Conservatives have every right to admit — or not — anybody they do or don't want in attendance.
And you'd be perfectly correct to do so. Correct, and also missing the point.
Of course Harper's Conservatives have the right to hold whatever kind of rallies they please. They even have the right to humiliate people and throw them out of their meetings (though not, I don't think, to humiliate and man-handle them).
They have every right to do it, but we owe it to ourselves to notice when it happens and to suggest that — just maybe, Mr. Harper — it ain't right.
It's not right, but it's not surprising, either. In fact, it's typical of the attitudes "the Harper Government" holds towards the people of Canada and towards democracy itself.